When a Rainforest Canopy Tour Puts Your Head in the Clouds

I woke up 6 a.m. the day after our road trip to Cape Coast — a time I would normally consider a godless hour unfit for man or beast. But jet lag had my internal clock convinced otherwise, so instead of so rolling back over, I rolled out of bed.

In stark contrast to my struggle to navigate the dark maze of muddy paths during the rainstorm the night before, in the early dawn finding the communal bathroom hut was a total breeze. As I got washed up, I was careful to perfectly execute the foreign tap water dance: Water from the sink goes on the face, but NOT IN THE MOUTH, NO, NEVER IN THE MOUTH! The dance moves are much harder to successfully execute than you might think.

Some habits are hardwired in the brain. I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been here that, after brushing my teeth, I’ve caught myself cupping water from the sink and bringing it inches — inches I tell you — from my mouth and throat hole, only to gasp and let the water fall into the drain. To drink the local water would almost certainly mean contracting what expats here have cutely dubbed the “Ghana gut.” (Quite an adorable nickname for “the runs” don’t you think?)

But enough about butts. (Teehee! Sorry y’all. This is what a ton of time with toddler nephews will do to your sense of humor.)

Ahem. So. As I was saying… In addition to being able to easily navigate to and from the restroom facilities, I was rewarded for waking so early with two delightful discoveries:

  1. The beach was steps away from my hut.
  2. Just at that moment, the sun was rising over the water and looking so. damn. beautiful.

Here’s a picture, but if I’m being honest, it really doesn’t do it justice.

Ocean sunrises are one of a handful of things that just don’t ever fully translate in duplicate. You’ve got to be there — to see the endless waves going back, back, back into forever and the vividness of the reds, pinks, blues, and yellows; to feel the warm of the sun on your face; to suffer the simultaneous desire to squint a bit and shield your eyes from the glare with the urge to say screw it, open them wide, and burn your retinas to ash if it means you get to more completely witness the world waking up at this spectacular moment.

Shortly after my little moment with the sunrise sent me into a delirious tizzy of joy and peace and all manner of woo-woo, hippy-dippy, New Age warm fuzzies, my brother and nephews woke up and joined me on the beach. It quickly became clear it was time to come back to earth. Nico was in the mood for some serious puddle splashing, and a little rock island formation needed to be climbed, STAT — there was no time to waste with a head in the clouds!

“C’mon Aunt Leigh-Leigh, let’s GOOOOO!” he yelled, gesturing me to following him, baby Cameron, Eric, and Miss Taxi’s boys up the rocks. And off we all went at his signature breakneck pace. God I love those little boys.

We spent the morning playing on the shoreline until the rest of the crew woke up and we ate breakfast. For some, the beaches of Cape Coast might have been enough adventure for a full day — but my sister-in-law has a joie de vivre that can’t be beat, and she had much more in mind for us on this fine Saturday

What could possibly top time on the shimmering sands of the West Africa coast? How about a rainforest canopy tour at Kakum National Park. That’s right. Mic drop.

Only, at the time I wasn’t sure exactly what that might mean, and so I didn’t understand that I was about to check a big-ticket item off my bucket list — one of the biggest I’ve checked off to date, and one that I hadn’t known enough about to even put on it prior to living the experience.

Let me explain. In my head, when Karla told me this was what would be happening, I’d imagined us walking beneath the trees, a brisk stroll, if you will, through the rainforest. I’d never been in a rainforest before and was very much looking forward to viewing things I’d grown up seeing on the Discover Channel in actual living color.

That wasn’t quite it. We got there, paid for our tickets, set off in our group, and at first it very much seemed like that would be it. We were strolling all right, and witnessing all manner of unique trees and wildlife in our paths.

But then I began to notice that the walk was distinctly elevated. When sets of stairs appeared, I ascertained that we were on what was most certainly a rainforest canopy climb rather than a hike. And then about ten minutes later, when we came to the wooden platform that served as the entrance to what was totally a friggin’ rope bridge, I came to the realization that we were expected to get on that thing, and soon.

It all happened so fast. Nico and Eric led the charge, with Karla following closely behind, her mother after that, and then me. That’s how I found myself on a rope bridge that slightly swayed with the weight of the rest of our 20-odd person tour group, without ever having had the chance to consider whether or not I would like to partake in such an experience.

And you know, if I’d been given a full understanding of the activity that awaited, and told to think over the decision to traverse seven swinging rope bridges through the treetops of the Ghanaian rainforest, I truly can’t say whether or not I would have talked myself out it.

I’d like to think I would have mulled over the danger and mustered up my courage anyway and taken that first step, all pluck and vigor and bravado, full of the pride that comes with sucker punching unfounded fear in the face. But, I’ve gotta be real with y’all. Those bridges were made of rope and the thing about rope is that it frays, and also the bridges were really, really high up. Wikipedia says 50 meters, which is like, 164 feet! Whether or not I would have gone for it is a coin toss.

But I’m so very, very glad I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, because it was truly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my lifetime.

The views were stunning. Spectacular. Phenomenal. They were all manner of adjectives wrapped into one super adjective that does not yet exist in the English language because there are too few opportunities to use it.

Here are the pictures. But, as with ocean sunrises, it turns out rainforest canopy views don’t truly translate into digital images. Even so, I think these turned out quite lovely:

For the most part, it was an enjoyable, unforgettable, awe-inspiring experience. But I’m not huge on heights, and found that no amount of brute willpower could save me from becoming occasionally very afraid. There were exactly three moments that fear hit me in the gut — not really in my head but in my body. You know the way the body can react against your will? It was like that. Elevated heartbeat. Legs shaking a bit. But I managed to calm myself down by singing a Gogol Bordello song softly to myself.

At least I thought I was singing it to myself, until Karla’s mom overheard me and couldn’t help but tease me about it — cause, family! What’s the fun in having ’em if you can’t give ’em a good ribbing from atop a rope bridge now and again?

My view of my nephew helped with the heebie-jeebies a ton, too. It was nearly impossible to remain scared of much with nearly three-year-old Nico ahead of the whole group and leading the way, bounding down the bridges with abandon.

It was an incredible adventure that was truly much more thrilling than terrifying, and when it was over I was almost sad to step off that last rope rung. But little did I know another new experience was waiting for me back on the rainforest floor!

When I got to the bottom of the hill, my older brother greeted me with this reused plastic bottle of what looked like murky water. Turns out, he’d bought it for $1GHS (less than a twenty-five cents) from a guy with a table full of coconuts for sale. Eric had assumed it was coconut water, but upon further inspection it was actually palm wine, a sort of hooch specific to this region of West Africa and one I recognized the name of from an episode of Anthony Bourdain I’d watched with my best friend in preparation for this trip.

Eric doesn’t drink, and so he graciously gifted me with the mystery booze.

Mr. Bourdain really talked this drink up on his show, so I was eager to have a taste. Turns out, he and I don’t share our enthusiasm for the spirit.

I took a swig and it was foul, oh man it was foul, but I drank it all down. I welcomed the firewater like much-needed medicine after the stressful experience I’d just undergone, incredible though it was.

It also served to calm my nerves when I learned that one of Miss Taxi’s kids had accidentally locked our keys in the car. This was the result of a slight miscommunication between the boy and Karla’s dad that was ultimately resolved when Karla’s dad bought a shirt in order to use the coat hanger it came on to jimmy the lock, 90s-style.

And you know, had it not been for that palm wine, I might have wondered about whether or not that would really work, and about how many hours one had to wait for a locksmith in the West African rainforest if it did not, and exactly how long the gas would last with the car running, and what might be the distance to the nearest station if it ran out.

But I didn’t worry about any of those things. I no longer had a care in the world! Tell you what, when it came down to it that palm wine was a U.S. quarter well spent!

After we got our keys out we hopped back on the road toward the hotel. It had been a day for the books — and one that came out of nowhere. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.


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3 thoughts on “When a Rainforest Canopy Tour Puts Your Head in the Clouds

    1. Oh you would have been right up there with Nico bounding down! I know it! Love you, momma, and proud to be related to someone as adventurous as you.

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